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    The wanderer’s return – B’midbar

    Though known in English as Numbers, the book of the Chumash we begin this week is B’midbar, “In the Wilderness”.

    This name encapsulates a whole dimension of human experience. For people can spend whole segments of their lives, and even their whole life, in a metaphorical wilderness: you can be in the wilderness professionally, when, despite all your talents, you never quite make a success of your career.

    In quite a different sense the wilderness can be seen in some people’s Jewish lives. There is residual Jewishness there, but they never get to the exciting, satisfying kernel of Jewish meaning and experience.

    Some are in the wilderness in an ideological sense. Franz Rosenzweig reminded us that in olden days, if a Jew left the ghetto walls during the day to ply a trade, he had to return to the ghetto at dusk. Rosenzweig compared this to the Jewish intellectual whose focus is outside Judaism and sometimes, not even at the twilight of life, never returns “home”.

    Does that mean that the two are mutually exclusive ­- Judaism and the other intellectual options?

    Not at all; Rozenzweig’s point is that whatever your angle on life, it and Judaism would both be enriched if they had dialogue. Judaism has something to give the lawyer, the doctor, the musician, the artist, the linguist ­ and they have something to bring to Judaism.

    What Judaism has to bring is its insights and ideas, and especially its ethics. What the intellectual wanderers can bring is the infinite variety of expressions of the human mind, heart and spirit.

    Think of the various associations of Jewish lawyers and jurists. They are not mere professional clubs. They have an intellectual dimension: their meetings and publications examine the interface between Jewish and general law. There are similar associations of Jewish doctors, for whom medical ethics are a major subject of study. In some places there are guilds of Jewish journalists: heaven knows the media can learn from the Jewish communications ethic.

    A great desideratum would be a Jewish business executives’ association: not that Jews in business are any less ethical than others, but they need to know the Jewish ethic of business, follow it even when inconvenient or inexpedient, and be a model to others.

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